I’ve been training weights now since I was around 22, I’m 28 in less than a month so that’s around 6 years. However, in that time stretching has probably been the most neglected activity in terms of my training. I’ve rarely missed a session at the gym, been meticulous with my diet and nutrition, woken up before the sun rises to do my morning cardio, stayed up late cooking and prepping my meals…but yeah like I said stretching just never seemed to find it’s way into my routine.
The way I used to look at it was, it was extra time I had to spend in the gym. When I get to the gym I want to get into my workout, smash it out and then go home to get my post workout nutrition in. However, do not be like me and overlook this crucial tool that you have at your disposal. I still don’t think I stretch as often as I should, so the motivation behind writing this article is to inform myself as well as YOU (my readers) so we can learn the importance of stretching together!
#1 Benefits of Stretching
- Improves posture – Stretching can help correct poor posture by promoting the muscles to sit more easily in their natural positions.
- Helps decrease risk of injury – By stretching before a workout you increase blood flow and oxygen into the muscles which will help warm you up before you start lifting.
- Improve joint range of motion – Having a good range of motion for your joints is important as when you are lifting heavy weights you want to be able to push the weight through your bodys full range of motion to get the maximum effect of weight training.
- Improves flexibility – Being flexible will help aid in certain exercises and also can help prevent injury.
- Promotes blood circulation – Having good blood circulation will aid in your pumps during your workout as well as help carry oxygen and nutrients around your body.
- Reduce muscle soreness – DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) can be a real bitch sometimes, especially after leg day. So stretching can help relieve this pain so you can walk up those stairs!
#2 Types of Stretching
- Dynamic stretching – this type of stretching involves movement of the body parts in a gentle manner. Do not force your joints to work past their natural range of motion and refrain from jerky movements. This type of stretch prepares the body for physical exertion by helping move blood and oxygen around the body and into the muscles.
- Static stretching – this is what I would call a ‘traditional’ stretch. This involves lengthening the muscle or muscle group to the point you feel a pull (slight discomfort almost paint) and holding it in place from anywhere between 30 seconds to 2 minutes. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this type of stretch as studies has shown it to be detrimental to athlete performance (source).
- Ballistic stretching – this involves a lot more movement when compared with dynamic stretching. You use momentum to force your body part of limb past it’s natural range of motion. A good example of this would be standing up straight and then bouncing down to toe your toes repeatedly. This is not a recommended stretch as it causes the muscles to tighten and doesn’t give them proper time to adjust in a stretched position which can lead to injury.
- PNF stretching (proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching) – PNF is used to improve motor performance in both active and passive ranges of motion. The way to perform it is starting with a hold and relax stretch which is held for 10-15 seconds followed by a contract and relax movement and then back to a hold and relax. It’s kind of hard to explain so the best example I can give is you know when you see a creepy guy PT at the gym and he has a females client laying on her back on the floor with one leg up held up against his shoulder? Well that’s a PNF stretch.
Now there are other types of stretching which I did not list as I feel these ones are the most important ones to know.
#3 When to stretch?
Before you train – This is when dynamic stretching should be utilised. Light movements while gradually increasing the range of motion is best, this warms the muscles up by moving blood around. If I’m going to train upper body I typically use dynamic stretching to warm up my shoulders and arms. It is very important to get your shoulders moving before performing any type of upper body training as the shoulder joints are very prone to injury.
Intra workout – Now this is what I’ve been doing a lot of lately but after doing my research it seems this could be bro science and not actual science. Regardless I’m going to talk you through what I’ve read and what I’ve been doing. Typically used when I train incline dumbbell bench, squats, pull downs and hamstring curls. I’ll finish a heavy set (until failure) of the aforementioned exercises and then go into a static stretch, slowly moving the stretched muscle all the way through it’s full range of motion (but slowly) and holding for 30 seconds at a time. Dr John Rusin says “Aggressively stretching a fully-pumped muscle is the perfect mechanism for growth. You increase overall muscular tension while also maximizing the cell swelling response for maximal muscle damage.”
Post work out – Now as I mentioned not everyone wants to stretch after smashing out a huge workout but don’t underestimate the benefits of post workout stretching. Now a good note is you don’t need to stretch every body part after every work out. Instead just focus on stretching out the muscle groups that feel most tight – for me that would be traps/neck, hammies, glutes and chest. The type of stretching that should be performed post workout should be a mixture of dynamic, static and PNF. One of the benefits of stretching after a workout is it will give your body time to cool down and get into a relaxed state.
Hopefully this article has been informative and answers any questions you might have about stretching. Remember don’t for get to leave a comment or question!